Gajraj goes ballistic over death squad allegations
-'I did what I felt I had to do within the confines of the law'
Stabroek News
April 16, 2004

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Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj has angrily rejected what he calls baseless and outrageous allegations linking him to a death squad formed to kill criminals.

At the end of his budget debate presentation yesterday, Gajraj launched into an attack against the absent PNCR MPs and the media which had persons standing outside the Ocean View Convention Centre running to the door to see what the commotion was all about.

Gajraj said he did not believe in the concept of death squads, which he said had a tendency to become Frankensteins. "I have always conducted myself consistent with the law. As Minister of Home Affairs I did what I felt I had to do within the confines of the law. If the criminals want to confront the police and use firepower then the police will not stand with their hands tied behind their backs."

Gajraj described the efforts of the PNCR to have the death squad allegation investigated as nothing but cheap publicity. "All the allegations are baseless and false. Hopefully the matter will be ventilated and investigated," he added.

He said the allegations had given rise to speculation "on the basis of which the PNCR is making preposterous demands." He said the PNCR is making no effort to have the matter investigated by the competent agency, the Guyana Police Force. He also lashed out at some sections of the media, saying that they used the allegations being peddled to sell their newspapers. "Some of the media practitioners will sell their own mother!" he declared mentioning Stabroek News.

The allegations that Gajraj had links to the death squad have come from George Bacchus who claims to be an ex-informant for the group. Gajraj admits having spoken to Bacchus. Telephone records show Gajraj had several contacts with Axel Williams, a key member of the squad who was linked by eyewitnesses to several murders, prior to his own death in December. Gajraj admits he did speak to Williams but for the purpose of gathering information. Gajraj and former Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald also approved an upgraded gun licence for Williams despite the ex-cop having killed a food vendor in 2002.

Gajraj alleged that it was the PNCR that had links to criminals and related an incident where, he said, a criminal was found to have the phone number of a PNCR senior member.

In his speech, Gajraj said a feeling of security is once again returning to Guyana, attributing this to the dedication of the men and women of the Guyana Police Force.

He said that the change in the security situation is evident in young people who, according to the minister, can now be seen taking walks and holding hands, hearts palpitating not with fear of criminal activity but with excitement. He called on the Guyanese people to demonstrate a zero tolerance for crime and to "preserve and advance the gains we made in national security."

He also said that persons should give their support to community policing groups. He made the point that because there was no Police Service Commission for some time the morale of the members of the force had been low and that the killing of officers during the 2002-2003 crime spree had also hurt morale.

According to the minister, the face of crime in Guyana has changed and the new modus operandi is engaging the attention of the force. He said that the incidence of crime has been reduced but there has been an increase in the occurrences of murders, kidnappings and rape. He believes that these are the work of a new breed of criminals.

Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Harripersaud Nokta in his contribution said that Guyana has seen tremendous gains despite the challenges and that every year the budget has been increasing. He said that the budget caters for the equitable allocation of funds among the regions. He added that contrary to the critics, the budget does not lack vision, focus or balance.

He said that for the regions, the medivac programme is to continue, since "government will not pinch in providing relief when it comes to people's health." He said too that Linden and Lethem are earmarked to receive new hospitals.

Yesterday's lone opposition speaker in the budget debate, GAP/WPA member Shirley Melville said that many workers feel that their interest was not considered with the increased NIS rates.

She said too that there was a need for consultation and more time for the preparation of regional budgets. She declared that if regional councillors are to be given a stipend they should perform better.

Melville, the parliamentary representative for Region Nine, expressed her displeasure at government officials who use public funds for campaigning.